Opinion: Students have been and continue to be let down by the government

“A little party, never killed nobody.” When pop singer Fergie wrote those lyrics in 2013, I don’t think she imagined a coronavirus world where a party could quite literally kill somebody.

Last winter, as the surge in coronavirus cases and deaths rose, the government brought in several measures to try to fight the virus. We had a second lockdown that wasn’t really much of a lockdown, we had tiers (remember those deeply successful things) before finally a third more serious lockdown was announced just after Christmas – or just beforehand, for those living in the south east.

Throughout, parties were banned because, well, they could kill somebody (sorry Fergie). It has since emerged that – despite ordering us to obey the restrictions – the clever people at 10 Downing Street had decided that, while the rest of us had to obey, they did not.

Thanks to some brilliant investigative journalism from Pippa Crerar, Political Editor of the Daily Mirror, it has emerged that a plethora of Christmas parties and events took place, both in Number 10 and at various government departments. https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/boris-johnson-broke-covid-lockdown-25585238

In a clip from one gathering at the Institute for Economic Affairs, the Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, a man so outdated that when he goes into a shop he probably prefers to ask for the price in ‘old money’, said: “I mean we’re all here obeying the regulations, aren’t we?” to a crowd of people clearly not. “I mean this party isn’t going to be investigated by the police in a year’s time.” https://order-order.com/2021/12/07/rees-moggs-imperial-social-distancing-rules/

The entitlement of those in power to believe that the rules do not apply to them is not only staggering, it is sickening. Families – including my own – couldn’t have wakes for close family members. Meanwhile, this lot were having what appears to resemble their own versions of Freshers’ Week. The people who decide the rules for everyone else took one look at them and went ‘nah not for me’.

The sheer arrogance boggles the mind.

Students, on the other hand, have been treated with utter contempt by this government. Parties held by the government and at Conservative Campaign Headquarters have – so far – gone unpunished, but the police were more than happy to dish out fines to students when we were caught partying. On October 20, Nottingham hit the headlines as being the first place where a fine of £10,000 was handed down.

That is a hell of lot of money to a hell of lot of people – maybe not to Mr Rees-Mogg, who according to Spear’s Wealth Management, has a reported worth of ‘well over £100 million’- but for the vast majority of us, it is a lot of money. Especially a 20-year-old student.

Some will say ‘well don’t have a party then’. This point is fair, but shouldn’t the punishment fit the crime. A fine of £10,000 is more than capable of ruining a young person’s future, job prospects and, more importantly, their mental health.

I spoke to someone who received a fine. They preferred to remain anonymous but said: “I think it is disgusting that I had to pay £800 for attending a party and these clowns get off with nothing. I had to stay at home for longer than I expected and work full-time hours during term time in order to make sure I could financially support myself.”

Throughout the pandemic, students and young people have been treated terribly by this government. A lot of us worked in supermarkets during the lockdowns, or in hospitality when restrictions were eased, doing our best to keep things as normal as we could.

Last Christmas, was the only time we have truly mattered to the government. When the idea of a bucket-load of potential Tory-voting parents not getting to see their ‘special sons and daughters’ over the Christmas period scared them into acting. Knowing the anger it would cause, they sorted out tests for us before we returned home.

Move forward a matter of weeks and.in the Prime Minister’s speech announcing the third lockdown, he made no reference to what would happen to students. We were stuck between whether to stay at home or return to university in the knowledge there wouldn’t be any face-to-face teaching.

Then, as lockdown eased and cases inevitably began to rise slightly again, who is it that gets the blame, you guessed it… students. We had been patient, put up with restrictions on our lives for more than a year and then when, understandably, at the first signs of freedom we decided to enjoy ourselves we copped it in the neck. Why? Because we are an easy target and unlikely to vote Conservative anyway.

All this for a virus that is nowhere near as harmless to us as it is to older people. I was unfortunate enough to get Covid and I’ve had hangovers that were worse. I lost my smell – which, to be honest – living in a house of eight lads was a blessing in disguise. It is important to stress that some students weren’t as lucky as me, but the vast majority were.

According to the Office for National Statistics, last week for our age group, 15-24, only 2.11 people per 100,000 were hospitalised with Covid. For people who are 85+ that rate is at 33.88.

I’m not saying we should just be given free rein, but the sacrifices we have made in relation to the risk should be recognised.

This is an opinion piece and the author’s views do not necessarily reflect the views of Platform magazine

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